Gillian O’Shaughnessy, Flash Fiction Finalist, LISP 2nd Quarter 2020
- Can you please tell us about your daily life?
I live in a port city, in Fremantle, Western Australia. It’s a messy, colourful, happy place with no shortage of inspiration. I have been working in radio for many years, I present a talkback show, so I get paid to listen to other people’s stories. It’s busy, and it’s not the kind of job that you ever really clock off from, you’re always hunting for stories or mining your own experience or that of family and friends for content, (sorry friends and family.) If I’m not at work, I’m sitting on my back deck beating my bloke at backgammon, or drinking too much with friends. I read for several hours every day. I love to read more than I love to write or speak or watch a film. There is never enough time to read and I read across every genre. I am supremely happy when I’m lost in other people’s work.
- When did you start writing? How often do you write?
I have been writing as a journalist for more than twenty years. It’s hard to shake the discipline but a few years ago, I started writing for myself and experimenting with different styles, which was deeply uncomfortable at first, but I think discomfort keeps you interested. I began with an essay commissioned for a local book about Perth, (Perth: A Guide for the Curious - UWA Publishing) and wrote about cities as reflections of its people, past, present and future. I started seeing stories everywhere after that, not just news of the day but in small, ordinary moments. I started keeping a journal and writing a blog, then had a story accepted for a Flash Fiction anthology (Once: A selection of short, short stories - Night Parrot Press) last year, and another accepted by Palm-Sized Press just recently. I have fallen in love with Flash. I am obsessed with reading and writing in this gloriously tight format. I try to write in my journal every day, it’s full of half formed ideas that often don’t go anywhere. Most of the time I can’t decipher my own handwriting but as long as I get the drift, it’s valuable.
- How does it feel to have your work recognised?
Well, Fremantle is a long way from the UK but I reckon you all would have heard me shriek for joy when I got the news. It was beyond wonderful and very validating, right up to the point I got my next rejection at which point I descended back into self-doubt and wretchedness.
- What's the best thing and the hardest thing about writing flash?
I love to choose a character or a snapshot in time and write around it, then move on to something else. It’s really given me freedom to experiment with different ideas, because I’m not trying to commit to a big idea. The hardest thing is resisting the urge to overwrite, to give away too much of the story. There are always sentences I spend days on, because they feel clunky and every word is important in flash. The more I work on them, the harder it is to see them. I can write endless dribble and only feel happy with one small phrase but those few words can be enough to take me somewhere else entirely. It’s a lot of fun.
- How did you come up with the idea for your LISP selected story? Is there a story behind your story? And, how long have you been working on it?
In my writing group our story prompt was to write about something that wasn’t human. I knew exactly what I wanted to write about. I had been watching a golden orb weaver spider, (Triconephila edulis) making her web in my garden for some time. We called ours Mavis. Their webs are insanely beautiful, they glitter gold and the females are huge, while the men are tiny and just hang around the edge of the webs hoping to approach without getting eaten for their trouble. The female will eat old bits of web and then somehow regenerate it into new web. There was actually a jacket once on display at the V&A in the UK made from silk harvested from a million golden orb weaver spiders. When they have babies, their young are perfectly capable of eating their mother if she’s on the way out. They are fascinating creatures. I’m obsessed. I could hear her voice as soon as I started writing.
- Can you please give us a few tips about writing flash fiction?
I am still new to flash so learning myself. My best tip is actually advice I was given by a writer in my group, Lissy Bakewell, who said, think of your story as a photograph not a film. I love that. I write long, then edit it down. I sift through every word and ask myself what purpose it serves. I’m learning to work on the start of my sentences, to see if there’s a better way to begin them, and to work on my titles. The title is often the best bit of a good piece of flash fiction. My writer’s group is an absolute gem of inspiration and community. I highly recommend joining one. And of course, read as much flash as you can. I really think with any kind of writing you need to be reading as much if not more than you produce yourself. Especially when you’re learning.
- What's the best thing and the hardest thing about writing competitions?
The best thing is getting the email which says Congratulations and being over the moon for DAYS. The hardest thing is all the admin. And of course, rejection sucks.
-Lastly, do you recommend the short story and Flash Fiction writers to give it a go on LISP?
Yes. Absolutely. I recommend having a poke through the LISP website as well, there’s a lot of gold to be mined from great stories and writing tips in interviews. It’s a wonderful resource.